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William Postlethwaite as John and Sophie Ward as Margaret Mond with Scott Karim as Helmholtz and Gruffudd Glyn as Bernard. Pictures: Manuel Harlan

Brave New World

Wolverhampton Grand

****

WHEN I was a lad Brave New World and 1984 were regarded as essential reading, an exciting glimpse into a disturbing, dystopian future.

It was all fantasy of course, genetic engineering was something done by Levi Strauss or Wrangler and we had a welfare state not a nanny state, and certainly not a snooping Government controlling our every action.

How quickly the future catches up with us though. We live in a world where designer babies are possible and test tube babies a reality and where the Prime Minister announces funding for a “happiness agenda” with the purpose of making people feel . . . happier.

And making people feel happy is a key function of Aldous Huxley’s controlled society where embryos are created by carefully selected egg and sperm combinations, Alpha Plus with Alpha Plus down to the moron Epsilons at the base of the social pile, all designed for specific roles in a well ordered society. The embryos are then grown in jars in a laboratory in vitro with each caste of embryo given different controlled nutrients – like worker bees, drones and queens but on an industrial scale.

Into that world comes the Savage who quotes Shakespeare – the title comes from a quote in The Tempest incidentally –   a man who wants not only freedom, but John and Bernardthe right to be miserable as well as happy.

Brave New World might be a slim volume, just under 64,000 words, but it has challenging concepts and ideas which are not easy to bring alive on stage so it is a great credit to the Touring Consortium Theatre Company to translate book to stage so well

 

Bernard and John with Margaret Mond, standing at the rear watching over them

Dawn King has kept the essence of the book in her adaptation and director James Dacre keeps everything to the point as the play opens with Thomas, The Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning, played by James Howard, welcoming us as the new intake.

It could well be like the familiarisation talks for new workers in a factory anywhere today, and in a way that is all it is, a welcome to a baby factory.

We meet Henry, played by David Burnett, an Alpha Plus, who knows his worth and embraces the hedonistic, immoral society he lives in where everyone stuffs Soma tabs in their mouth like a child with Smarties; Soma being a mind altering drug which induces well-being without side effects, or at least not side effects that matter.

Then there is the  . . . lust interest, Lenina, played by Olivia Morgan, attractive, blonde and like everyone else, perfect and promiscuous, although promiscuity is as natural a breathing in the new order.

Not everyone is quite perfect though; Bernard, played by Gruffudd Glyn, is a sleep learning specialist, who is a bit of a misfit. He is smaller than other Alpha Plus males giving him an inferiority complex and fermenting rumours that mistakes were made in his embryo stages.

His surly attitude worries Thomas who is set to banish him to an Island but puts that off when he leaves to visit a reservation to study savages taking Lenina with him.

And that is where it all starts to unravel when Bernard returns with not only a Savage, John, played by William Postlethwaite but also John’s mother Linda, played by Abigail McKern, along with a secret which sees the fall of the director and the rise in stature, if not size, of Bernard as the keeper of the Shakespeare quoting Savage.

That brings him into contact with the regional controller, Margaret Mond, played by Sophie Ward, a change from the book’s Mustapha Mond, His Fordship. She has her own guilty secrets, owning banned books, and seems to have more than a scientific interest in John, the play and book’s anti-hero.

John’s struggle in his being what to us is a normal(ish) person trying to cope with an alien controlled world is quite disturbing and his grief is strangely moving as his alcoholic mother is euthanized in such a matter of fact way in a world where death is normal and organised for everyone at the end of their economic usefulness - deemed to be 60 in Huxley's world..

With no family or emotional ties, no children or parents, different casual partners every day, it is a world where no one loves, misses or mourns anyone – so no one knows how to cope with John.

John has one ally in the underground writer and poet Helmholtz, a lecturer in the College of Emotional Engineering, who reads a poem to students and is banned as a heretic.

And John affects others with Postlethwaite and Morgan producing a believable and tragic love scene with Lenina actually feeling emotion.

There is never going to be a happy ending, at least not in John’s world, but in a clever theatrical twist, in this Brave New World adaptatio we end where we began, as the new intake of workers being welcomed by the new director, Henry.

It is a clever setting from designer Naomi Dawson, well lit by Colin Grenfell and with 12 video screens and a video wall with a stream of images enhancing the action designed by Keith Skretch – a case of using video with purpose rather than merely to add a bit of AV and save on scenery.

There is also futuristic music from These New Puritans which sets moods or creates tension along with the lighting in what is a disturbing, intriguing and memorable production. To 07-11-15

Roger Clarke

03-11-15 

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